Oh boy: MPs prepare to probe UK.gov's digital prowess and tech savvy

One sec, we need to limber up for this one...

Hand pulls on a latex rubber glove (disposable). Photo by shutterstock

The UK government's efforts to improve digital services, boost staff's tech skills and prepare for cyber attacks and the extra burden of Brexit are to be probed by MPs.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has launched an inquiry on digital government, which should have tech Whitehall-watchers grabbing for the popcorn.

The MPs plan to look at the success of the Government Digital Service (GDS), which was devised as a central tech division that would reform Whitehall services, but has fallen on hard times of late.

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Most recently, it had a major policy and tech area – data – snatched off it and handed to the Ministry of Fun*, and MPs will ask what the implications of this land grab are for GDS.

MPs will assess whether the GDS has managed to promote the use of tech and data across government, and look at the progress of digital services more broadly, to ascertain where further development is needed.

As readers will know just by casting a brief look back across El Reg, the committee is sure to find a long list of areas in need of improvement.

Indeed, this year's Infrastructure and Projects Authority report on major government projects showed multiple tech and IT projects at risk of failure, with the Home Office's plan to shift the blue-light services to 4G branded unachievable.

Deep issues were flagged up with GDS's identity check scheme Verify, HMRC's Making Tax Digital project and the embattled Universal Credit programme.

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Further problem programmes include HMRC's Customs Declaration Service and the Home Office's Digital Services at the Border, both of which are under pressure due to the UK's impending exit from the European Union.

Unsurprisingly, Brexit is another area of interest for the MPs. As well as asking how digital services will have to change after the UK departs the bloc, they plan to consider whether there are opportunities for GDS.

The MPs also want to know how the government and its agencies use the data they hold to maximise their value for money – an issue often discussed in relation to the NHS's apparent willingness to share data with firms.

Similarly, the inquiry will look at the extent that such government data sets are used by the private or academic sectors, and how the much-championed open data agreements are working in practice.

It is also expected to look at data sharing between departments, which is both enthusiastically encouraged as a way to boost Whitehall efficiency and vehemently decried as a way to increase state surveillance in equal measure.

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Also on the list is how well government services are protected from cyber attacks, which will no doubt cover the NHS's efforts to shore up systems after the WannaCry attacks last year and broader vulnerabilities to data breaches.

Further issues include the digital skills capacity in government, which has historically struggled to recruit and retain the best people due to public sector pay caps and the need to work with outdated, creaky systems.

Any Reg readers who want to make a submission to the inquiry – and we're sure there are plenty with opinions – have until 28 September to do so. ®

*Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.




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